BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT DODGE – Holy Trinity Catholic’s Matt Hellige was all smiles after improving almost 32 spots over his 2017 performance at Saturday’s State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge.
Hellige, running in his second straight state Class 1A track meet, finished with a time of 17:49.3 in the 5K run at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge, good enough for 58th place out of 140 runners. Madrid senior Sean McDermott won the 1A meet with a time of 16:16.
Off the gun, Hellige stayed in the center of the field as the course tapers from a full line of all 140 to a 10-foot track around the golf course grounds. At about the 1-mile point, Hellige was in the pack with the mid 60s and picked off a couple runners coming up a hill just after the halfway point and then another couple on the downward slope to the finish line.
“I definitely wanted to take advantage of the hills of the course,” Hellige said. “There are lots of tiny hills on this course and I trained this year on more hills so I thought I could make up some ground there.”
Hellige said he felt good on the run in just about perfect weather.
“I felt really good on my warmups and the start of the race,” he said. “It was really good weather. Last year it was a windy day, chilly and cloudy, not the best. This year was almost perfect, really.”
In 2017, Hellige ran the course in 18:04.4, a 14.1 second improvement over his sophomore performance. He missed the cut as a freshman in 2016 at qualifying by two spots. The top 15 at qualifying and the top three teams winning qualifying all advance to the state run.
HTC Head Cross Country Coach Matt Mohrfeld moved to areas around the course where he could see Hellige.
“I was tickled that he didn’t try to overrace the first half-mile and then it looked like he was picking up spots the whole race and at the end he picked up a couple more spots,” Mohrfeld said.
Hellige said he didn’t want to run out of steam as the race went on.
“Last year, and this year really, I tried not to get out too fast and then burn out of energy toward the end. That’s really easy to do in races like this,” Hellige said. “Our training plan was really good this year and I think that definitely helped.”
He said next year’s plan is to just keep improving on his time and place and maybe integrate a few more miles into the training routine as he ramps up his performance with college just a year and a half way. Hellige said he wants to run at college.
Mohrfeld said this year’s training plan was strong and Hellige executed well in the run.
“He said he definitely wants to run in college,” Mohrfeld said. “So we’re gonna bring his miles up next year and we’ll probably talk to a couple perspective college programs and overlay that so he has a nice transition going forward.”
Hellige’s dad, John, who’s also HTC’s head boys basketball coach, said his son ran a good race.
“I thought he ran a really good race. This year he had a much more strategic approach,” John said. “That’s a result of maturity and coaching, and he spent a week at a cross-country camp this last summer at Wartburg, which I thought was a real difference maker. He was around a lot of high school kids who like to run and learned a lot of mental preparation for racing.”
With about 150 Class 1A schools represented at Saturday’s final race of the year, John Hellige said his son is just about at the top level in the state.
“He’s in the top three to five in southeast Iowa. When you get here you got the best of 150 schools and if you finish in the top 50 you’re pretty much the cream of the crop and we hope to keep cutting this in half each year.”